Branning Collision Centers revamps, donates two cars to families in need

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VASHTI HARRIS/ STAFF
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(Left to Right) Monmouth County Resident Valerie Benites receives the keys to her newly reburished on Sept. 26 at the Branning Collision Centers's East Brunswick location. VASHTI HARRIS/ STAFF
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(Left to Right) Monmouth County Resident Valerie Benites receives the keys to her newly reburished on Sept. 26 at the Branning Collision Centers's East Brunswick location. VASHTI HARRIS/ STAFF
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EAST BRUNSWICK – Branning Collision Centers has donated refurbished cars to two area families as part of its Recycled Rides program.

The company donated a 2016 Mitsubishi to Monmouth County resident Valerie Benites and her family, and also donated a 2016 Hyundai to Monmouth County resident Olivia and her family on Sept. 26 during an unveiling ceremony at the company’s East Brunswick facility, at 1120 Route 18 north.

“When I went to share my story I was just grateful for the opportunity to at least have my story heard. I can’t express how immensely grateful and blessed I am to be one of two families [chosen] for this amazing event and I can’t begin to thank everyone who helped pull this event together,” Benites said. “The most amazing gift from one human being to another is to see another human being struggling and instead of walking by and turning a blind eye, stepping in and helping. I have been dealt with some pretty rough cards over the past several years and me and my family have been through quite a bit, but this past year alone has completely restored my faith.”

Benites and Olivia are domestic abuse survivors. For the safety of her and her children, Olivia chose not to use her real name.

This is the third year the company partnered with a nonprofit organization to identify deserving candidates to receive the vehicles. Monmouth County-based 180 Turning Lives Around selected the families, according to a prepared statement from Branning Collision Centers.

“With this generous donation from Branning, Geico and Recycled Rides, a mother can now pursue gainful employment more easily and take her children to school and extracurricular activities they previously had difficulty participating in without their own transportation,” 180 case worker Lumi Espaillat said in a prepared statement. “In addition to a car, you are giving them the ability to pursue better lives.”

In addition to the vehicles, Branning also provides recipients with donations from local retailers such as gas cards, food, clothing and other gifts, according to the statement.

“In my 10 years with the agency, about 95 percent of the clients that have come through our doors have had either extremely unreliable vehicles or no vehicle at all. This makes it almost possible for them to go about their lives in a carefree, easy way that we would all hope that everyone is able to,” said Melissa Knott said, program coordinator for 180 Turning Lives Around.

Knott said having a reliable vehicle is completely essential for independence and for safety and is often one of the factors of why victims of domestic violence cannot leave an abusive relationship.

“Without a vehicle, you can’t get to school or work, which limits your access to money, which in turns limits the victim’s ability to secure alternate housing. … It’s really hard for clients to share their stories. It’s not easy. You might think, ‘Oh, there is a program that offers a free car to someone’ everyone is going to jump for the chance,” Knott said. “While everyone might want to jump for the chance it’s very, very hard for them to share their personal stories, personal tragedies and everything that they have suffered. So for the ones that do have that courage to come forth are incredible, they are my heroes.”

This is the fifth Recycled Rides event in which Geico has donated vehicles to be restored by Branning’s team. The two donated cars are the sixth and seventh vehicles Geico and the company have restored for the program.

Geico Auto Damage Manager Eric Tomkiewicz said Geico has been involved with Recycled Rides for five years, and each year he makes a personal commitment to increase the number of vehicles that are donated.

“Next year, I am hoping we can do 10 of these and really make an impact with 10 different families. The one thing that impresses upon me when meeting the family is our industry has a great opportunity to use what we know to get people back on course and with knowing the families it’s really not the question of the need it is a question of these families wanting to succeed, and basic transportation affords that to them,” Tomkiewicz said.

This marks the second time that Branning will be donating multiple vehicles simultaneously, according to the statement from Branning Collision Centers.

“There is so much involved in bringing this day together and it’s truly a labor of love. Our staff and volunteers’ time and energy work tirelessly to prepare for this event. Our contributors have given generously and most have been involved in our recycled rides program since our first event in 2015,” said Kim Branning, chief operating officer of Branning Collision Centers. “I believe I can speak for everyone when I say there is an emotional connection to these families that is so rewarding.”

The Recycled Rides program is run by the National Auto Body Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and implementing community-centered initiatives that exemplify the integrity of the collision industry. Recycled Rides aims to donate refurbished vehicles to local, economically disadvantaged families with the help of insurance companies and agencies, car rental companies, collision repair centers, parts vendors, local businesses and others in the industry. Since its creation in 2007, the program has helped provide thousands of vehicles to families in need, according to a prepared statement.

For more information about Branning Collision Centers, visit www.branningcollisioncenters.com.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.